McClatchy, owner of The N&O, buying Durham Herald-Sun

McClatchy, the corporate owner of The Charlotte Observer and The (Raleigh) News & Observer, has added The Herald-Sun of Durham to its stable of newspapers and media holdings.

McClatchy is taking over The Herald-Sun and related digital assets from Kentucky-based Paxton Media Group, which acquired the Durham paper in 2004. It subsequently was hit with economic challenges roiling the newspaper industry. McClatchy’s acquisition cost and other terms were not disclosed.

McClatchy’s acquisition brings the California media chain’s total to 30 newspapers in 14 states, including seven in North and South Carolina.

The Herald-Sun’s operations will be overseen by Sara Glines, president and publisher of The News & Observer.

“We see it as a really great opportunity because it’s in Durham, where we’d love to have a larger presence,” Glines said in an interview. “The Herald-Sun has long roots in this community.”

When Paxton acquired The Herald-Sun, McClatchy also put in a bid for the paper. This time, the deal came together in a matter of weeks, Glines said. Like the newspaper industry in general, The Herald-Sun has lost print subscribers and advertising and is down to about 35 employees, compared to about 320 for The N&O.

Glines said the Durham paper is profitable but the operating details under McClatchy ownership remain to be worked out. She added the paper will remain in its leased building near Northgate Mall. She said layoffs are not planned while the operations are reviewed and noted that The Herald-Sun’s back-office functions are handled off-site by Paxton and will transfer to McClatchy. The Herald-Sun is printed by Paxton’s facilities in High Point and will be shifted to McClatchy’s printing presses in Garner in the next 90 days.

Lew Myers, interim CEO of Downtown Durham, an economic development group, suggested the McClatchy acquisition may potentially save the paper, which he said was struggling.

“With the acquisition by McClatchy it insures there will be a local paper focused on Durham,” Myers said. “I would hope McClatchy invests serious resources.”

Myers said it is frustrating that The Herald-Sun’s paywall does not allow readers access to any articles without a subscription, creating a dearth of local news. He hopes to see greater online access when The Herald-Sun’s policies are aligned with McClatchy’s.

Larry Grimes, a media analyst with W.B. Grimes & Co. in Maryland, said McClatchy’s move, while unexpected, makes strategic sense.

“Strategically it fits perfectly,” Grimes said. “It allows them to expand geographically and maybe fill in something in-between.”

Grimes expects The N&O and Herald-Sun to coordinate group advertising deals and share news articles, creating “a nice advertising cluster.”

The Herald-Sun traces its origin to the Durham Daily Sun, which published its first edition in 1889. It became The Herald-Sun in 1991 with the merger of the Durham Morning Herald and the afternoon Durham Sun.

Sacramento, Calif.-based McClatchy operates newspapers in 14 states and also runs a Washington, D.C., bureau. Its holdings include The Miami Herald, The Kansas City Star, The Sacramento Bee and The Charlotte Observer.